Welcome to the second round of the Mae Young Classic. I’m taking over for Kevin Wilson, proprietor of the invaluable Joshi City website, and will be taking us all the way to the end. Longtime site readers might remember my weekly struggles as the Monday Night RAW reviewer. This is a much better gig.

Kevin gave biographical sketches of all of the competitors in his first round reviews. Rather than tell the same story again, I’ll point you, dear reader, to his reviews of Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3, and Episode 4. As a longtime follower of SHIMMER that is my base of reference for many of the competitors.

Much like Kevin, I’m not going to be using star ratings, but I will be highlighting the must-see matches from each episode.

Abbey Laith Def. Rachel Evers

Abbey Laith advanced to the second round after pulling what was treated as an upset victory over Jazzy Gabbert (Alpha Female) in one of the better first round matches. On a side note, I was sad to see Gabbert get knocked out so quickly, as she has a truly unique aura. Rachel Evers advanced after…let’s just call it one of the less aesthetically pleasing matches against Marti Belle.

Even though I know she played a face in CHIKARA, it is still odd to me to watch Laith playing face after years of her being such a foul heel in SHIMMER. But all credit to her, she plays the face in peril, plucky underdog role quite well. And Evers, though still green, has the physical presence to present a hard to overcome challenge, without needing to resort to heel mannerisms to do so.

Laith woke the crowd up with an early tope onto Evers, but Evers gained control quickly with a diamond cutter/RKO counter. Evers has potential, but is still reliant on a few moves that she feels safe executing in a certain order.

The majority of the match was Evers using her power and size to press the offense on Laith, with Laith trying to find an opening. It appeared that Evers was going to advance after crushing Laith with a huge top rope powerslam, but Laith caught Evers trying one too many scissor kicks, scooped her into a modified powerbomb followed by the alligator clutch for the victory.

The match did its job of continuing to push Laith as the opportunistic scrapper who needs only one split second to get the win against bigger and stronger opponents. There were some clunky spots, but nothing egregious.

Piper Niven def. Serena Deeb

Piper Niven advanced after a surprising (and surprisingly good) win over Santana Garrett. 

Serena Deeb earned a relatively easy win over Vanessa Borne in her first match back after a long hiatus to move to the Round of 16.

Another match where the storylines appear to be pretty obvious. Big vs. small, vet vs. less experienced wrestler. Commentary before the match making sure to dwell on the fact Deeb is coming back from a two-year layoff and planting the seeds of doubt about whether she can handle a test as difficult as Niven so soon after returning.

Very slow pace to start off, with Deeb holding onto a side headlock in the hopes of keeping Niven under control, akin to trying to break a bucking bronco. Trying to body slam or suplex Niven was even less successful. When all of that failed Deeb started to throw fists at Niven, reminding me how much I loved Serena’s punches that I maintain are among the best in the business. This is in contrast to Niven, who in the matches I’ve seen of hers here and in other companies, never quite brings the kind of explosiveness and power to her offense that someone of her size, strength, and athleticism should bring.

Deeb strung together a series of high impact moves that seemed to have Niven on her heels. It seemed certain that the seasoned vet was going to pull off the win when Niven missed a huge splash from the top, putting her in perfect position for Deeb to hit the spear. But in a nice subversion of the usual ending sequence, instead of giving Serena the opening to finish the match, her charge was countered into the Michinoku driver by Niven for the (upset?) win.

Niven was too much of a physical force, and was almost always in control. My complaints above notwithstanding, she is being portrayed as a wrecking ball, and whoever beats her is going to have earned the victory. It was good to see Serena in the ring again. I don’t know if this was just a one-off event for her, or if this will lead to more appearances in NXT or other companies, but either way I was glad for it. Worth watching, as it picks up nicely by the end.

Mercedes Martinez def. Princesa Sugehit

Mercedes Martinez defeated Xia Li in a hard hitting opening round match. Princesa Sugehit fended off Kay Lee Ray to make her way into Round 2.

The current SHIMMER champion makes an appearance as two veterans faced off, a welcome deviation from the youth vs. experience paradigm. Fancy grapples and cocky head slaps gave way to Martinez landing some hard strikes, but Sugehit gave it right back with hard kicks. What appeared to be a Three Amigos by Mercedes takes a detour into dropping Sugehit with a draping DDT, a nifty twist on a now commonplace setup.

The match was trying to get into a power vs. speed groove, but it ended very abruptly with Martinez snatching Sugehit into a fisherman buster for the pin. This has been the template for most of these contests, making them reminiscent of old 80’s syndicated WWF TV shows. There’s basic trading of moves, and then at some point the clock runs out on the match and the finisher hits to end it, seemingly disconnected from whatever was going on before it.

The story of Martinez, cocky and sure of herself, as the current SHIMMER champion should be, moving inexorably through the tournament is a story that’s easy to tell, and nobody can pull off that attitude better than Mercedes. However, the matches aren’t always as good as the story. It was short, so I can’t be too unhappy about it, but it really was just there.

Kairi Sane def. Bianca Belair

Kairi Sane sailed into the second round after performing a miracle and having a far better match with Tessa Blanchard than I would have believed possible. Bianca Belair whipped her hair back and forth enough to topple Sage Beckett.

The most renowned woman in the tournament draws one of the most raw competitors left in the field would normally be the sort of template for the young underdog to try and overcome the odds. But Belair is so full of self-confidence and arrogance that she literally wills herself into seeming like the favorite.

I’m struck by how much faster and more fluid Sane is moving about the ring than everyone else on this episode. This isn’t a knock on everyone else appearing. Rather it is just amazement at the skills of Sane. She is working at a level very few other women in the world (and not many men to be honest) can match.

Watching Belair take advantage with a series of nasty hair whips I have to wonder what the official would do if someone were to catch the hair as it was being whipped at them. Would it force the ref to reprimand the victim? Is this a move that cannot be countered, as the mere act of countering it is by definition illegal? Belair’s use of the braid is possibly the most brilliant wrestling gambit since the double Stings at Halloween Havoc 1990.

Belair has a menace to her actions that is fulfilling to watch. Contrast her mannerisms and moves with Niven earlier. Belair tries to make it look like her goal is to hurt her opponent with each move that she does. There is malice and spite in her every action. That accumulated damage and violence, along with an absolutely beautiful 450 splash, is why the crowd at Full Sail bit completely on the idea Sane could lose this match. Hell, I bit on it for a second. After surviving the best the near-rookie could dish out Sane gained control and won with that oh so beautiful elbow drop, but she was given a stiffer test than expected.

Sane continues to be the favorite to win the tournament, and this match was crucial to establishing her ability to hang with bigger and more physically dominant wrestlers. Also it continued to establish that she is really damn good at the professional wrestling. For my money though the revelation in this match was Bianca Belair. She obviously has a long way to go when it comes to in ring work, but she inhabits herself fully, and her presentation demands that the viewer take her on her terms. In a way I feel that she is handicapped by having come up in the WWE machine, as she would benefit greatly from being exposed to a wide array of styles and influences. Either way, I’m looking forward to watching her in the future. Women’s wrestling needs more unrepentant badasses. This is definitely worth seeing.

Final Thoughts

A mostly entertaining episode. The Niven vs. Deeb and the Sane vs. Belair matches were entertaining and would be on the must-see list of MYC matchups. The results set up Martinez vs. Laith, where a Laith win would be a huge upset and truly make her the (ugh. I don’t want to use this term about a women’s wrestling tournament. Damn it.) Cinderella of the brackets. Kairi Sane will wait for the winner of Dakota Kai vs. Rhea Ripley, and I’m giddy at the thought of Sane vs.Kai in the Quarterfinals. And Piper Niven is waiting to try and continue to wreck her way to the finals against the winner of Toni Storm vs. Lacey Evans.